One night last week, I found myself alone, hungry and in want of some social interaction. As I'm wont to do at such times, I headed to a friendly neighborhood restaurant with a bar at which I could sit and chat with the bartender or other patrons.
I settled on Miso (3100 N. State St., 769-251-0199), Grant Nooe's new Asian-fusion restaurant. It's a casual, friendly spot and Grant's food is healthy, fresh, and yummy. Plus, with a Fondren crowd, I figured there'd be some interesting company. It being Memorial Day weekend, most of the Jackson population appeared to have headed to the beach, so for a while, I held down the bar alone, which gave me time to chat with bar manager John Swanson. Swanson is one of those Jacksonians who makes me excited about our city. Passionate about his food and beverage craft, he also has wide-ranging interests in creative enterprises of all sorts, and understands that Jackson is ripe to capitalize on our creative economy.
We chatted about everything from a recent TED talk he'd watched about print media to graphic design to farm incubators, and ended on the topic of our city and our desire to be a part of positive change in it.
I thought back to the week before the Democratic mayoral primary, when I attended a political accountability session for Working Together Jackson (find it on Facebook). WTJ, for short, is a broad-based coalition of 39 member organizations from all across the city, one of which is my church, St. Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral. Over the past year and a half or so, through talking with literally thousands of members, WTJ identified seven common community-wide issues and concerns it wants to address. Several sub-groups, organized by neighborhood, began a grassroots effort to address them, and the success to date is impressive.
Also impressive is that WTJ is so diverse--crossing lines of religion, race, gender, political persuasion and economy--yet was able to identify commonalities that everyone wants to do something about. At the recent session, multiple WTJ leaders asked the crowd, "Do you have a mind to work?" and the answer was a resounding, loud, "Yes!" And the group is working. One thing it prides itself on is that it will not ask elected officials (or anyone else, for that matter) to address an issue on which it is not already working. When we talk about things like political accountability, I think that's only fair. This is my city, and for me to simply sit back and wait for someone to do something, or "save" it, strikes me as disingenuous.
Like many groups, WTJ does not endorse any political party or candidate, but it does want to work with those elected. At its political accountability session, rather than giving candidates a platform to speak, the candidates had a chance to listen--to learn about what WTJ is working on and why we believe these issues are important to the economy, health, and future of our community. They then agreed to sign a commitment to work with the group on several specific issues, if elected. I'd like to think that even those who aren't ultimately elected officials will continue to work with us.
Reflecting on all of this, I spent Memorial Day afternoon with another group of Jacksonians, less formally organized but no less passionate, creative, and committed to our city. Several years ago, a group of friends started what's become an annual tradition of a holiday pig roast to kick off the summer. It's grown in size so much that this year it relocated from Arthur Jones' front yard to Belhaven Park.
While slathered in SPF and sitting under a tent to keep from burning, I talked with friends who care deeply about this place we call home. Some are working to transform the culinary scene here. Some are working to quite literally change the landscape, as architects. Some are working to foster entrepreneurship. Some work in politics or on shaping public policy. But regardless of any single election outcome, or the outcome of any single project in town, they're all here; they're all committed; and in their own way, each contributes.
Over the past month, we've seen a lot of divisiveness. Sadly, that's politics for you. But when the dust settles, even if we don't always agree, we're all still in this together. In so many of the people I talk to each day, I'm reminded and encouraged that so many of us do have a mind to work and that each of us in our own ways, big and small, plays a part. I hope you'll do yours.